THIS IS A well-traveled road and, goodness knows, we've all been down it so many times before that we should be able to anticipate every curve and dip in the pavement, know exactly where each pothole is, practically be on a first-name basis with every road sign along the way.
They've been playing baseball in this town for 129 years. For a significant part of that time, there was also an American League entry to follow. The hard-learned, hardball lessons should have been hard-wired into the civic DNA by now.
One game in April, no matter how unsightly, doesn't mean a thing. One game at almost any point of the longest season, but one game in April especially.
We hold this truth to be self-evident.
So why . . . ?
Cole Hamels didn't pitch particularly well against the Mets last night. No argument there. And, yes, that stuck out the way those blue caps the Phillies used to wear for Sunday home day games in the mid-1990s clashed with the red uniforms and shoes below.
It interrupted the momentum set in motion by strong starts from the first three members of the gold-plated rotation, Roy Halladay followed by Cliff Lee followed by Roy Oswalt. The 27-year-old lefthander was expected to be every bit the equal of his peers and, in the first time around, at least, he was the odd man out, the joker slipped into the deck to replace one of the four aces.
It popped the myth of invincibility surrounding the starters before Joe Blanton took the mound for the first time. It was a disappointment to all those who had made Hamels a trendy Cy Young pick based on his lack of run support the last couple of seasons and the supposition that these things tend to even out. Especially with him working as the No. 4 starter and theoretically matching up with starters at the bottom of the opposing team's rotation.
And it resulted in the first loss of the season, which, to make matters even worse, just happened to come against the blankety-blank Mets.
Still, Hamels has had bad games before. He'll have bad games again. You may safely wager that Halladay, Lee and Oswalt will as well. This will not necessarily prevent any of them from having exemplary seasons and helping this team return to the World Series for the third time in 4 years.
True. All true.
So why . . . ?
Statistically, Hamels had a poor spring, ending with a 6.67 earned run average. He's done that before and was right where he needed to be when the season opened. Knowledgeable baseball fans understand they should ignore Grapefruit League results, especially for veterans with proven track records. Right?
Charlie Manuel verbalized the premise with elegant simplicity. "This is one game. I ain't worried about him. He's going to be fine," the manager said.
So why . . . ?
It was a strange night overall. Mets starter Chris Young had three hits, just two less than he allowed the Phillies in his 5 innings. In the bottom of the fourth, a customer down the rightfield line indulged his inner Steve Bartman, reaching over the railing in rightfield to interfere with a foul fly hit by Ben Francisco. Francisco was out. Soon after, so was the fan. In the middle of the ninth, a dope wearing a Mets jersey ran onto the field, slid into second base and then meekly allowed a half-dozen security guards to lead him away.
In the same vein, Hamels wasn't knocked around quite as badly as his box-score line - 2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER - might suggest.
Each hit he allowed was a single. One was a bunt and another was an infield hit. Most of the others were well-placed grounders that found a hole. His velocity was fine. With runners on base, he struck out David Wright on a fastball that lit up the scoreboard radar gun at 95 mph.
But his command wasn't there. The first three Phillies starters combined for a single walk going into last night. Hamels doubled that, and also hit a batter. Later he said he had a good feel for the ball despite the lack of Fahrenheits, but that for some reason his fastball started to sail on him. When the third inning began getting away from his, he might have started rushing himself. He wasn't working ahead in the count.
"I've been there, done that. But at the same point, it's frustrating," he conceded. "You don't want to have games like that. Especially games to start off the season."
Hamels had a tough day. It happens to the very best players in baseball. It's one game. No more, no less. These are verities that shouldn't even have to be mentioned anymore.
So why in the name of Adam Eaton did a vocal segment of the 127th consecutive sellout at Citizens Bank Park lustily boo as Hamels trudged from the mound?
In the end, that was probably the most disappointing thing of all that happened at Citizens Bank Park last night.